Category Archives: Great Decisions

Great Decisions

Topics for Great Decisions* 2018

1.  The Waning of Pax Americana? By Carla Norrlof

During the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency, the U.S. began a historic shift away from Pax Americana, the liberal international order that was established in the wake of World War II. Since 1945, Pax Americana has promised peaceful international relations and an open economy, buttressed by U.S. military power. In championing “America First” isolationism and protectionism, President Trump has shifted the political mood toward selective U.S. engagement, where foreign commitments are limited to areas of vital U.S. interest and economic nationalism is the order of the day. Geopolitical allies and challengers alike are paying close attention.
Date:  4th Thurs, Jan. 25
Reviewer:  Julie Kleszczewski

2.  Russia’s Foreign Policy By Allen C. Lynch

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is projecting an autocratic model of governance abroad and working to undermine the influence of liberal democracies, namely along Russia’s historical borderlands. Russia caused an international uproar in 2016, when it interfered in the U.S. presidential contest. But Putin’s foreign policy toolkit includes other instruments, from alliances with autocrats to proxy wars with the U.S. in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. How does Putin conceive of national interests, and why do Russian citizens support him? How should the United States respond to Putin’s foreign policy ambitions?
Date:  2th Thurs, Feb 8
Reviewer:  Dr. Elaine Fenton

3.  China and America: the New Geopolitical Equation
By David M. Lampton

In the last 15 years, China has implemented a wide-ranging strategy of economic outreach and expansion of all its national capacities, including military and diplomatic capacities. Where the United States has taken a step back from multilateral trade agreements and discarded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), China has made inroads through efforts like the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). What are Beijing’s geopolitical objectives? What leadership and political conditions in each society underlie growing Sino-American tensions?  What policies might Washington adopt to address this circumstance?
Date:  4th Thurs, Feb.22
Reviewer:  Jayne Herrick

4.  Media and Foreign Policy By Susan Moeller

State and non-state actors today must maneuver a complex and rapidly evolving media landscape. Conventional journalism now competes with user-generated content. Official channels of communication can be circumvented through social media. Foreign policy is tweeted from the White House and “fake news” has entered the zeitgeist. Cyberwarfare, hacking and misinformation pose complex security threats. How are actors using media to pursue and defend their interests in the international arena? What are the implications for U.S. policy?
Date:  2nd Thurs, Mar 8
Reviewer:  TBD

5.  Turkey: a Partner in Crisis By Ömer Taşpinar

Of all NATO allies, Turkey represents the most daunting challenge for the Trump administration. In the wake of a failed military coup in July 2016, the autocratic trend in Ankara took a turn for the worse. One year on, an overwhelming majority of the population considers the United States to be their country’s greatest security threat. In this age of a worsening “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, even more important than its place on the map is what Turkey symbolically represents as the most institutionally Westernized Muslim country in the world.
Date:  4th Thurs, Mar.22
Reviewer:  Maria Ellis

6.  U.S. Global Engagement and the Military By Gordon Adams

The global power balance is rapidly evolving, leaving the United States at a turning point with respect to its level of engagement and the role of its military. Some argue for an “America First” paradigm, with a large military to ensure security, while others call for a more assertive posture overseas. Some advocate for a restoration of American multilateral leadership and a strengthened role for diplomacy. Still others envision a restrained U.S. role, involving a more limited military. How does the military function in today’s international order, and how might it be balanced with diplomatic and foreign assistance capabilities?
Date:  2nd Thurs, April 12
Reviewer:  TBD

7.  South Africa’s Fragile Democracy By Sean Jacobs

The African National Congress (ANC) party has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. But the party today suffers from popular frustration over official corruption and economic stagnation. It faces growing threats from both left and right opposition parties, even as intraparty divisions surface. Given America’s history of opportunistic engagement with Africa, there are few prospects for a closer relationship between the two countries. Meanwhile, a weaker ANC could lead to political fragmentation in this relatively new democracy.
Date:  4th Thurs, April.26
Reviewer:  TBD

8.  Global Health: Progress and Challenges By Joshua Michaud

The collective action of countries, communities and organizations over the last 30 years has literally saved millions of lives around the world. Yet terrible inequalities in health and wellbeing persist. The world now faces a mix of old and new health challenges, including the preventable deaths of mothers and children, continuing epidemics of infectious diseases, and rising rates of chronic disease. We also remain vulnerable to the emergence of new and deadly pandemics. For these reasons, the next several decades will be just as important—if not more so—than the last in determining wellbeing across nations.
Date:  2th Thurs, May 10
Reviewer:  Dr. C.S. Rani

Charles Room, The Harvard Club, 27 W 44th St., 5:30—7:30 p.m.
For more information, email Julie K: juliek@msn.com
*Check back with us for a finalized list of authors and titles for each topic. 

Great Decisions

2017 Great Decisions

Topics for Great Decisions 2017

  1. The Future of Europe By Andrew Moravcsik
    The outcome of the United Kingdom referendum on EU membership sent shockwaves across the globe. It even caught British voters by surprise. The European Union has helped secure peace in Europe for the past 70 years. Now it faces an uncertain future. Amid a refugee crisis, lingering financial recession and the constant specter of terrorism, unity seems more imperative than ever. But the Brexit vote underscores the complexities of integrating an extremely diverse continent. What will post-Brexit Europe look like, and how can U.S. foreign policy adapt?
    Date:  4th Thurs, Feb. 23
    Reviewer:  Julie Kleszczewski
  1. Saudi Arabia in Transition By Lawrence G. Potter
    As Saudi Arabia struggles to adjust to the drastic decline in oil revenue, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman attempts to boldly transform the country and shift more power to the younger generation. At the same time, many countries such as the U.S. point out the lack of democracy, women’s rights and human rights in Saudi Arabia, and blame its promotion of Wahhabism, an extremely conservative version of Islam, for creating jihadists. Bipartisan criticism of Saudi Arabia is rising in Congress. Both countries need each other, but they are at a crossroads in bilateral relations.
    Date:  2nd Thurs, March 9
    Reviewer:  Dr. Elaine Fenton
  1. Nuclear Security By Todd Stephen Sechser
    Nuclear nonproliferation was a top priority for the Obama administration. While the Iran Deal was a diplomatic victory toward this end, major threats persist from both state and non-state actors. Countries like North Korea, Russia, and India and Pakistan continue to challenge nonproliferation efforts. The possibility that terrorists will carry out an attack using a “dirty bomb,” made from captured nuclear materials, looks increasingly real. In a fractious world, which way forward for U.S. nuclear security policy?
    Date:  4th Thurs, March 23
    Reviewer: Dr. C.S. Rani
  1. Trade and Politics By Jeremy Haft
    The U.S. political mood toward trade has gone sour. One need look no further than the 2016 presidential contest for the popular narrative: trade means that China wins, at America’s expense. But do the numbers support that conclusion? The metrics used to gauge economic strength—Gross Domestic Product and balance of trade—have not kept up with the realities of modern manufacturing. Obtaining an accurate picture of U.S. economic stature requires a critique of those numbers. Only then can the U.S. develop appropriate policy solutions for the challenges at hand.
    Date:  2nd Thurs, April 13
    Reviewer:  Jayne Herrick
  1. U.S. Foreign Policy and Petroleum Jonathan Chanis
    What is the effect of U.S. petroleum security on foreign policy? For 45 years, the country has alternated between periods of energy security and insecurity, sometimes able to wield petroleum as a useful instrument of foreign policy, sometimes not. Despite the so-called “energy revolution,” the U.S. today is by no means disentangled from foreign dependence and global trends. In order to be successful, policymakers must recognize both petroleum security circumstances and patterns in the relationship between petroleum and foreign policy.
    Date:  4th Thurs, April 27
    Reviewer: Ruth Wong
  1. Latin America’s Political Pendulum By Michael Shifter and Bruno Binetti
    The pendulum of Latin American politics is swinging rightward once again. Yet as the “pink tide” recedes, the forces of change have more to do with socioeconomics than ideology. Dramatic economic and political crises have coincided in countries like Brazil and Venezuela. Still, the final result for Latin America may be the emergence of centrist, pragmatic modes of governance, and with them, opportunities for the U.S. to improve relations. The new administration must look beyond the neoliberal model of the 1990s, and develop an approach to relations fit for the 21st century.
    Date:  2nd Thurs, May 11
    Reviewer:  Maria Ellis
  1. Prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan By Austin Long
    Major internal conflict has plagued Afghanistan for four decades. The U.S., for its part, has conducted military operations in the country nearly continuously since 9/11. Today, war with the Taliban persists, and tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have gradually deteriorated. As his time in office drew to a close, President Obama limited further withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The incoming administration has a choice: will it maintain the status quo, completely reverse the Obama administration drawdown or withdraw completely? Does the U.S. face a no win situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
    Date:  4th Thurs, May 25
    Reviewer: Dr. C.S. Rani
  1. Conflict in the South China Sea By Bernard D. Cole
    The South China Sea is a locus of competing territorial claims, and China its most vocal claimant. Beijing’s interest has intensified disputes with other countries in the region in recent years, especially since China has increased its naval presence. Despite rising international pressure, including an unfavorable ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, China staunchly defends its policies in the region. Preventing tensions from boiling over is a matter of careful diplomacy.
    Date:  2nd Thurs, June 8
    Reviewer:  Maria Ellis

Great Decisions

2016 Great Decisions

Topics for Great Decisions* 2016

1. Middle East:  From a proxy war in Yemen to an ongoing civil war in Syria, a number of ongoing conflicts have shaken the traditional alliances in the Middle East to their core. As alliances between state and non-state actors in the region are constantly shifting, the U.S. has found itself between a rock and a hard place. In a series of conflicts that are far from being black-and-white, what can the U.S. do to secure its interests in the region without causing further damage and disruption?
Date:  4th Thurs, Jan. 28
Reviewer:  Julie Kleszczewski

2. The Rise of ISIS:  Born out of an umbrella organization of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burst onto the international stage after it seized Falluja in December 2013. Since then, the group has seized control of a number of critical strongholds in the country and declared itself a caliphate, known as the Islamic State. Still, the question remains: What is ISIS, and what danger does it pose to U.S. interests?
Date:  2nd Thurs, Feb.11
Reviewer:  TBA

3. The Future of Kurdistan:  Kurdistan, a mountainous region made up of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria, is home to one of the largest ethnic groups in West Asia: the Kurds. Now, most in the West know them for their small, oil-rich autonomous region in northern Iraq called Iraqi Kurdistan — one of the U.S.’ closer allies in the Middle East and a bulwark against the expansion of the so-called Islamic State. What does the success of Iraqi Kurdistan mean for Kurds in the surrounding region?
Date:  4th Thurs, Feb. 25
Reviewer:  TBA

4. Migration:  As a record number of migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in Europe, the continent is struggling to come up with an adequate response. Although Europe’s refugees are largely fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa, their struggle is hardly unique. Today, with the number of displaced people is at an all-time high, a number of world powers find themselves facing a difficult question: How can they balance border security with humanitarian concerns? More importantly, what can they do to resolve these crises so as to limit the number of displaced persons?
Date:  2nd Thurs, March 10
Reviewer:  TBA

5. The Koreas:  At the end of World War II, Korea was divided in two. The northern half of the Korean peninsula was occupied by the Soviet Union, the southern by the United States. Today, North and South Korea couldn’t be further apart. The North is underdeveloped, impoverished and ruled by a corrupt, authoritarian government, while the South advanced rapidly to become one of the most developed countries in the world. With such a wide gap, some are asking if unification is possible, even desirable, anymore?
Date:  4th Thurs, March 24
Reviewer:  TBA

6. The United Nations:  On the eve of the international organization’s 70th birthday, the United Nations stands at a crossroads. This year marks a halfway point in the organization’s global effort to eradicate poverty, hunger and discrimination, as well as ensure justice and dignity for all peoples. But as the UN’s 193 member states look back at the success of the millennium development goals, they also must assess their needs for its sustainable development goals — a new series of benchmarks, which are set to expire in 2030. With the appointment of the ninth secretary-general in the near future as well, the next U.S. president is bound to have quite a lot on his or her plate going into office.
Date:  2nd Thurs, April 14
Reviewer:  Maria Ellis

7. Climate change:  In the past few years, the American public has become more aware of the damage wrought by climate change. From droughts in the west to extreme weather in the east, a rapidly changing climate has already made its footprint in the United States. Now, it’s expected that the presidential election in 2016 will be one of the first ever to place an emphasis on these environmental changes. What can the next president do to stymie this environmental crisis? And is it too late for these efforts to be effective?
Date:  4th Thurs, April 28
Reviewer: Dr. C.S. Rani

8. Cuba and the U.S.:  The U.S. announced in December 2014 that, after decades of isolation, it has begun taking major steps to normalize relations with Cuba, its neighbor to the south. The announcement marks a dramatic shift away from a policy that has its roots in one of the darkest moments of the Cold War — the Cuban missile crisis. Although the U.S. trade embargo is unlikely to end any time soon, American and Cuban leaders today are trying to bring a relationship once defined by a crisis in the 1960s into the 21st century.
Date:  2nd Thurs, May 12
Reviewer:  TBA

Charles Room, The Harvard Club, 27 W 44th St., 5:30—7:30 p.m.  For more information, email Julie K:  juliek@msn.com

*Check back with us for a finalized list of authors and titles for each topic.

Published annually by the Foreign Policy Association (FPA) – an independent, non-governmental organization-promoting informed public opinion on U.S. foreign policy and global affairs. The anticipated release for the Great Decisions briefing book and related materials is January 2016. The exact titles and order of discussion topics is subject to changeFor more information on Great Decisions 2016, for free promotional materials, to place an order or to locate a discussion group in your area you may contact a customer service representative  toll-free at (800) 477-5836.